Doing Your Own Research

Doctors used to be the only source of medical information. Not anymore. You can get much of the same information on the Internet. Problem is, not all of the information you’ll come across online is good. Here are some ways to empower yourself with good Internet research:

• It’s good to have some general “search engine” sites as a starting point on your quest for information. I usually start with Google. Yahoo and Bing are also good. Search engine sites will give you a list of more specific sites where you can get the information you seek.

Advertisement

For example, a Google search for “diabetes” gives over 70 million possibilities, starting with the American Diabetes Association, WebMD, Wikipedia, the National Institutes of Health, and Mayo Clinic. All of these sites give good information, but you shouldn’t trust any of them alone. Always seek a second or third opinion. There’s no shortage of sources on the Internet!

• If your first search brings results you’re not interested in, try slightly different keywords. A wikiHow article on web searching suggests adding more specifics for some searches; for example using “continuous glucose monitor accuracy” instead of “blood sugar monitors” if you are trying to compare continuous glucose monitors.

• If you’re looking for information on a medicine, you can use a general search or go to a number of medicine-specific websites. I use WebMD’s medication index or Drugs.com. You can also type the drug’s name into a Google search. That way you’ll get news, science, consumer information, and opinion sites to choose from.

Sometimes you need more than one search. If your doctor mentions putting you on Byetta, say, a Google search for Byetta would tell you that it is in a drug class known as “incretin mimetics.” So you could do a second search for “incretin mimetic” to find out what that means.

• If a website has useful information you might want to see again, bookmark the link so you can easily find it again. All web browsers allow you to bookmark valuable sites.

• If you can, print out pages you think are important to show your doctor.

• Never take one site’s word for something. Check multiple sources. Be suspicious of any site that is trying to sell you something. If there’s a name connected to the article or site you are reading, try Googling the name and seeing what other people say about the person.

• “Social media” refers to websites where users communicate with each other through chat, message boards, or writing each other personally. Diabetes Self-Management has Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, as well as a social media aspect in our comments section. The advantage of social media is that people can learn from each other. You are not limited to “expert opinions,” but can see how things work out for real people.

The disadvantage is that you have no way of checking if the person writing a message knows what they are talking about. You would definitely want to research any new idea you got from social media through more established sites.

• About.com’s page on Internet research gives several valuable tips for evaluating information and deciding how reliable a source is. The site has several good pages on using the ’net that can be viewed from links on this page.

• Consider the date. If a page hasn’t been updated for five years, it might not be trustworthy. (That reminds me; I better update my own site.)

• Be suspicious of amateur-looking sites. “Spelling errors, grammar errors, poor formatting, cheesy advertising on the side, absurd fonts, too many blinking emoticons… these are all red flags that the author is not a serious resource.”

• Be suspicious of anything that sounds too positive or too negative. Don’t trust people who are ranting against something or overstating things.

• Find a site you can understand. If there’s too much scientific language, you might prefer a site that is more in layman’s language. Diabetes Self-Management and Blood Sugar 101 are two sites with good information in understandable words. Both have boxes where you can search by keyword.

This stuff is easy for me to say. I like researching. Not everybody enjoys this kind of activity, but there are ways to make it easier. You might need a better web browser (the program you use to search the Internet). You might want a faster modem if it’s available and you can afford it. You might want a more comfortable chair or desk setup.

Whatever you find on the web, run it past your doctor. You don’t have to accept his opinion, but you do want him to know what you are up to. Bring him printouts or links to the pages you have used.

The Internet is not a substitute for expert guidance. But relying only on one expert, like your doctor, when there are dozens of authorities out there is risky. There is too much medical information now for anyone to know everything. The more you can learn about your own condition, the better your management is likely to be.

What have you researched on your own? How did that work? What tips do you have for our readers? Thanks in advance.

  • Consuelo

    Looking up diabetes topics led me to this site, medpage, and medscape, diabetes 101, etc. Reading about several studies related to gastric bypasses and then caloric restriction and “reversal” led me to look up different types of diets to improve my insulin sensitivity. I was able to lose more weight and lower my A1C. Diabetes 101 taught me about when to test my glucose and what to values to aim for, also about low carb meals. This site, which includes your blog is a source of very good information for managing my diabetes. I get a lot of good information. Your approach to health is one that is helpful to me, one I don’t have the possibility of discussing or hearing in my everyday life…so I find that it is a source of support. Thank you.

  • Joe

    Doing research prior to a medical visit can improve your quality of care because it takes less time to work with an informed patient than one who presents knowing little about their condition.

    The flip side is one must be careful not to self-diagnose, and particularly to avoid sites that are full of misinformation and quackery. These can generally be be weeded aut as David explains above. I would add if the main purpose of the site is to sell a product (book, diet, miracle cure, etc.) rather than inform the patient, be cautious. Also be wary of any site that promotes conspiricy theories, claims that the government or “big pharma” are out to get you, that medical doctors are willfully ignorant of their miracle cure, etc.

    That’s not to imply that alternative therapies are worthless. Some have solid research supporting them. Just don’t believe everything you read until you check it out. Good doctors and nurses are aware of these things and know which ones work and which are snake-oil.